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Remains of 800-year old bridge discovered in England

Remains of a previously unknown medieval wooden bridge have been discovered in Eastern England. Found in the town of Eye in Suffolk, it is believed to have been part of the defences of a castle, and may date back as far as 1200 AD.

The oak wood was in such good condition that score marks made by the 13th century carpenter were still clearly visible. It is very unusual for timber to be preserved for so long, but these remains were largely intact as the waterlogged conditions had stopped the decaying process.

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Suffolk County Council’s Archaeology Service oversaw the excavation, which was carried out by Britannia Archaeology Ltd, ahead of development at a site near Eye Castle.

“Our team revealed an 8-metre-wide segment of a ditch, which is believed to be part of the outer bailey defensive ditch for Eye Castle,” said Martin Brook of Britannia Archaeology. “We also recovered other finds from the ditch, including pottery which dates from the 11th to 14th centuries. By far the most significant find was a large oak timber, which was within the lower fills of the ditch. It is likely to be a baseplate of a trestle for a timber bridge, which would have spanned the ditch. The bridge is likely to date between c.AD 1200 and c.1265, when the castle was sacked and abandoned.

“This is not something that any of us were expecting and it’s incredibly satisfying and exciting to work on, both adding to our understanding of the castle in its historic setting and helping to further our understanding of medieval life in Eye.”

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Trial trench looking North East across the bailey ditch prior to the excavation of the timber. Photo by Britannia Archaeology Ltd / Suffolk County Council

Due to the significance of the find, Historic England were invited to advise on the remains. Zoe Outram, a Science Advisor for Historic England, comments, “Waterlogged archaeological deposits are uncommon in England, and as a result, organic materials like wood or remains of plants are relatively rare when it comes to the physical evidence that exists in the archaeological record. Investigations of the timber and other materials from this site in Eye will provide interesting and valuable insights into everyday life at the time such as the activities that people carried out, the technologies that were utilised and the landscape around the castle.”

Councillor Richard Rout, Suffolk County Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Environment, added, “It is important that we oversee and record this work so that we can understand the development of such significant sites. All remains have now been fully excavated ahead of the development. The finds will now undergo specialist analysis, details of the site will be documented, and the archive will be deposited with Suffolk County Council’s Archaeology Service.

Digitisation of the oak illustration. Image courtesy Britannia Archaeology / Suffolk County Council

“This was a real team effort, and I’d like to thank Roundwood Restorations Ltd, the expertise of Britannia Archaeology Ltd and our Archaeology Service officers who ensured that the remains were recorded and excavated to the highest standards.”

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Top Image: Timber base plate from trestle bridge after lifting from trench. Photo credit: Britannia Archaeology Ltd / Suffolk County Council

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